Author Mike Sirota on Writing and His Latest Work

It’s been said that thriller and horror authors are the nicest people on the planet because they get all of their angst out in their fiction. Doubtful? A conversation with renowned horror author Mike Sirota might convince you otherwise.

Not only does Sirota have twenty published novels (including the recently released Fire Dance) and fourteen years as an award-winning magazine feature writer and editor under his belt, he is a kick-butt writing coach, book editor and friend who cares as much about his writers’ success as he does his own. And he took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions on our behalf. (Thanks, Mike! :))



First, here is what others are saying about Sirota and his work:

“Mike Sirota is an absolute pro of a writer and, even for non-aficionados of ghost stories, these pages sing.” John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of Treasure Hunt and Damage

“Dear Mike: What can I say? Because of your expert guidance and fine touch I’m now a published author. When we first hooked up and started working together, I worried that the job of writing my novel would be an arduous task, filled with hours of agony and tedious rewrites, but I was wrong. Your lively comments and sense of humor have made the effort truly enjoyable. You keep editing and I’ll keep writing. It’s a pleasure working with you.” Jeff Sherratt, author of Detour to Murder

About Fire Dance:
LEGENDARY AUTHOR MIKE SIROTA RETURNS! The searing wind whistles through the ruins of Concordia Sanitarium in Southern California’s bleak Anza-Borrego Desert. Now, something else stirs: the tormented spirits of the staff and inmates who perished in an all-consuming fire over a century earlier. As one gruesome murder after another plagues the nearby quiet retirement community of Smoke Tree, Tracy Russell and Mark Alderson try desperately to stop the one inmate that should never have been released—either in life or in death.” ZOVA Books

“Sirota returns…with this atmospheric tale of horror in the American Southwest. Horror fans will enjoy this updated take on the western ghost town.” Publishers Weekly

“So great to have a new book from legendary writing coach Mike Sirota. When he writes, you should listen!” Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Live to Tell

Here we are at his book signing at Mysterious Galaxy. Good times!

What inspired you to write Fire Dance?
MS: I go hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert, the setting for Fire Dance, at least once a year. On one trip, the old “what if” kicked in. What if, during the 1870s, they put a sanitarium in the desert where no one could run away, given the heat, the terrain, etc.? What if one inmate—Bruno—was a violent mass murderer? What if they all burned to death during a dance? And what if, over a century later, they all came back…

What aspect of Fire Dance are you most pleased with?
MS: While it is a ghost story—some even call it a horror novel—it has a strong romantic element. Tracy and Mark, the main protagonists, are two emotionally wounded people who come together in a small desert town—a retirement community, no less—under some remarkably challenging conditions. As they learn to love and trust again, their future is in doubt as they face the nightmare that is Bruno.

You have a gift for luring readers in from the get-go. How do you do it? Any tips for other writers?
MS: We call the opening of a novel the HOOK. Engage the reader on page one and don’t let go. Just recently I presented a hook workshop at a writers’ conference and I read the first page of Fire Dance to the attendees. It gratified me that they were so taken with the visualization of the desert, and the inmates wandering around the grounds in their white, ghostly shrouds. Scene builds on scene, each one designed to make the reader want to know more. Don’t bore the reader with expository narration, weather reports, the main character describing herself while looking in the mirror, the history of the world, part I, etc.

Of your many accomplishments, what makes you the most proud?
MS: All writers hope to be reviewed in Publishers Weekly, our major trade publication. Even a bad review can be a good thing. Of my first nineteen novels, not one was reviewed in PW. But Fire Dance was, and positively. It made my day.

What do you love most about writing?
MS: Just about everything. I love it when a scene comes out of my head so fast that I can’t input it quickly enough. I love doing research. The book/Internet research is cool enough, but for my final draft I do what I call “living research,” where I travel to the scene of my story to actually experience the setting. Last month I traveled to the Sierra Nevada foothills, the setting for my next novel, THE BURNING GROUND. Fantastic trip that, after I got home, enabled me to bring my pages to life. I do this for every story.

Do you make mistakes?? ;) Let me rephrase: What aspects of writing do you find most challenging?
MS: I’m a perfectionist, so I probably go overboard in being anal. As an editor, I want no typos or other errors. As a writer I want every detail to be correct. If the woman is wearing a red dress on page 23, she’d better not be wearing a blue dress in the same scene on page 36. I’ve seen it happen—in published novels.

What common mistake(s) do you see new or up-and-coming writers make?
MS: Oh, how much time and space do you have! Weak opening hooks, inability to handle a POV (point of view), poor dialogue—I could go on and on. If you want to write a book you need to READ READ READ, which sounds basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many writers hardly read. Some writers even try to write in a genre of which they have never read a single book—because the genre is selling, they think.

Take writing classes. Go to writers’ conferences. Join a read-critique group. Read books about all aspects of writing. Subscribe to THE WRITER and WRITER’S DIGEST. Learn your craft!

Anything you wish you’d done differently throughout your career?
MS: I always tell writers to keep their day jobs. Had I followed that advice for myself years ago, I might have kept writing and improving my craft, instead of taking a hiatus of about seventeen years.

If you could give one bit of advice to writers, what would you suggest? Write for the love of writing. If you write to become a bestselling author and make a gazillion dollars, you will likely fail.

What’s next in the pipeline? I mentioned THE BURNING GROUND. It’s another ghost story, and also a romance, this time with three emotionally wounded people: a man, a woman, and a ten-year-old boy. It also became a statement book, as it involves a small Sierra foothill Native American tribe, the Maidu (they’re for real), and one particular village where everyone is exterminated by miners during the Gold Rush (true). Their spirits remain trapped here, and in the contemporary story their graves are desecrated by “thieves of time” (also a real problem) for artifacts. Now the spirits are really pissed, and guess what…

CONTEST!!! Order Fire Dance or Demon Shadows (Kindle edition). Send a copy of your purchase confirmation to august@augustmclaughlin.com and I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $20 iTunes gift card. And as always, I welcome your thoughts!

Dodging the Blues by Letting Things Slide

Last week I interviewed Katrina Leupp, an up-and-coming sociologist and researcher at the University of Washington, on behalf of EHow.com.

Leupp’s latest research, involving 1,600 stay-at-home and working mothers of small children, showed a significant link between “super mom” attitudes—i.e., believing you can “do it all” with ease—and an increased risk for depressive symptoms. Women who were more skeptical about balancing work and motherhood prior to child-rearing, were less depressed.

The good news, according to Leupp, is this: “You can happily combine child-rearing and a career, if you’re willing to let some things slide.” Mothers should ask for help, she advised, not aim for perfection and learn to properly prioritize. (Read the full article here: Why You Should Let Things Slide. Love to hear your thoughts!)

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Leupp’s findings and the writer’s life—a practice I’m prone to, perhaps partly because I’m not a mother myself.

If we believe that writing our novel, short story or screenplay will be simple, a piece of literary cake, we’re in for a none-too-pleasurable surprise. The gooey chocolate turns out to be carob. The frosting may be bitter or the filling too sweet. Writing, particularly amidst a hectic lifestyle, is not supposed to be easy. If we develop “super writer” attitudes, thinking we can easily “do it all,” we, too, may be prone to sleep problems, foggy thinking, loneliness and tears.

Successful writers don’t write because it’s easy or stop because it’s not. We write because we love it. Because we feel we must. Because we’ll feel sad and empty later if we don’t. And if we stick with it, doing our best and allowing for mistakes, the end prize is worth all the cakes in the world’s bakeries combined…in MHO. ;)

So what can we let slide? Maybe it’s not going to every social event we feel obligated to attend, turning our cell phones off during work time or allowing dirty dishes to wait a while longer. Each time we sit down before an empty page, we can give ourselves permission to simply write, without thoughts of “This better be great or else!” Sometimes it means allowing ourselves to sit and daydream before we start typing at all. It most definitely means listening to and following our instincts.

What about you? What are you willing to let slide? And more importantly, what is doing so worth to you?

NEWS: I’m pleased to announce the winner of the Amazon.com gift card drawing, for last week’s “comment of the week” contest: Ellis Shuman. Offer congrats and check out his fabulous blog, Ellis Shuman Writes here.

Writers’ Gains from Whole Grains

White bread and noodles and chips, OH MY!

Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting that you fear these foods as Dorothy feared wild animals. But upping the ante in your grains department can benefit far more than your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, particularly if you’re a writer.

(Psst! A healthy food pyramid does not look like this.)

Most of us have read a book or watched a movie that lacked substance, right? A predictable plot, blase characters or a seemingly pointless climax or resolution can leave us feeling cheated, wanting for more, hungry for it. (God forbid we ever write one!)

Think of refined grains like disappointing stories. The most nutritious parts have been stripped away, leaving us with something grain-like. They may look or taste good, but what do they provide? “Empty calories”—calories (units of energy reaped from food) that lack nutritional substance, i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and fiber.

While whole grains promote positive energy levels, brain function and appetite control, refined grains leave us wanting for more. They can offset our blood sugar levels, zap our energy and leave less room in our diets for nutritious fare, making way for nutrient deficiencies.

Whole grains provide significant amounts of B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamin E and copper. Deficiencies of any one of these nutrients can cause foggy thinking, poor memory, low moods and a slew of other health problems. And Americans as a whole consume less one-third of the minimum daily amount recommended by theU.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (Perhaps that means we’re all foggy. Hmm…)

Here’s the good news: Swapping refined grains out for whole grains takes care of these dilemmas. And it’s not as difficult as it may sound.

In a study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” in Aug. 2009, researchers analyzed the effects of a nutritious diet, rich in whole grains, on the brain function of 3,634 adults age 65 or younger. A strong, positive link was found between nutritious diets and sharp cognitive abilities.

What does all of this mean for us writing-folk? Eating primarily whole grains can help ensure sharp thinking, creativity and revision skills.

Tips to get you started:

  • Most adults need at least three 1-oz servings of whole grains per day for general health. Although math isn’t my strong suit, it seems pretty obvious that one or more servings with each meal cuts it. At breakfast, have whole grain bread or cereal. For lunch, a sandwich on whole grain bread. With dinner, enjoy brown rice or whole wheat spaghetti. Badda bing! Three-plus servings.
  • Look for “100 percent whole grain” labels on prepared breads, pasta, crackers, cereals and rice dishes. If the word “whole” is first on the ingredients list, you’re likely on the right track.
  • Seek substitutes. What’s your favorite refined food? Brownies? Cookies? Chips? All of these foods are available in whole grain form. I make my own whole grain cookies and chips, but I’m on the far end of foodie-ism. If you enjoy baking, use stoneground whole wheat or white whole wheat flour instead of white or add oats in place of half of the flour.
  • Don’t go crazy with it. Not every grain that passes your lips must be whole. The DGA recommends that at least half of your grains derive from whole sources. More is better, but not necessary.
Tasty Ways to Try ‘Em
  • PBJ on 100 percent whole grain bread
  • Scrambled egg and veggies on a whole wheat English muffin
  • Old-fashioned oatmeal topped with fresh berries and yogurt
  • Homemade oatmeal raisin (or “craisin”) cookies
  • Bean burritos served in whole grain tortillas
  • Brown rice pudding…YUM!
  • Whole wheat pasta topped with tomato sauce and seasoned, diced tomatoes
  • Grilled fish, meat or tofu served on brown rice and veggie pilaf
  • Scrambled eggs or tofu, with quinoa mixed in
  • Popcorn seasoned with natural herbs or spices
What about you? Have you noticed the influence whole or refined grains have on your writing capabilities? Any questions? I have years of work and study as a certified nutritionist under my belt — no pun intended. Feel free to put it to use!
As a reminder, one lucky commenter will win a $15 Amazon.com gift card tomorrow. :)

The Upside of Downtime

I’m lying beside-the-pool lounge-chair style on my sofa with my laptop propped up on a pillow. The breeze outside speaks of soon-coming rain, which I’d welcome. The sound beats the nasty news program on the measles “contagion” running rampant in California and even nastier politician’s remarks ten fold. And although a serious cold is consuming much of my energy and my main writing projects are somewhat on hold (for a very short time, thank goodness), I’m finding the downtime refreshing. 

down·time noun \ˈdau̇n-ˌtīm\

1: time during which production is stopped especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs
: inactive time (as between periods of work)  - Merriam-Webster Dictionary
If you’re like me, sitting still, napping and other forms of static relaxation are, well, not particularly relaxing. (If you’re not, pajama hat off to you!) Since I already learned that working too hard at the onset of a cold fuels its toxic fire, I’m taking it easy.
The benefits so far:
  • I wrote a short story for the NPR Three Minute Fiction contest. (I wouldn’t have, had I not been resting.)
  • Plentiful time for daydreaming, which often fuels fiction.
  • Added phone chats with my mom and sister.
  • Extra hang-time with my dog.
  • Writing/reading blogs… Connecting with friends online.
  • Housecleaning = not happening.
Anticipated benefits:
  • The glee of feeling great again, once I do.
  • Renewed vigor for my writing works-in-progress.
What about you? What do you do to relax? What are the benefits? I always love hearing from you, so feel free to post comments or tweet me @AugstMcLaughlin. As a “thanks” for your support, one lucky commenter will receive a $15 Amazon.com gift card on Monday. If you haven’t yet entered, here’s your shot.
“No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you’d be more productive.” Dr. Joyce Brothers
“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden, or even your bathtub.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Interact in Moderation: How Commingling Breeds Success

When I completed my first novel, I called my mother, somewhat farklempt. “Take a nap,” she said. “You just birthed a novel.”

‘Creativity’ has historically been used interchangeably with the term ‘genius,’ a Latin word derived from the Greek ‘ginsethai.’ Translation? “To be born.” In other words, Mom was right on that birthing bit.

And our creative artistry may require as much…um, pleasurable interaction as literal ‘birthing’ does. (No, I’m not referring to THAT type of interaction, although hmm… I do think that helps. Another blog topic entirely…) Back to my point.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in Nov. 2009, researchers found a significant link between creativity and social interaction among corporate employees. Employees with intermediate social interaction exhibited significantly more creativity than those with weak or strong social ties.

We can take this to mean that A) sitting at home in our writing caves 24/7 can zap our creativity, B) partying every night and much of our days on Twitter, Facebook and other social media what-have-yous can do the same, and C) moderate amounts of social engagement can boost your creative juices. Yeah-oo!

Writers conferences provide an awesome opportunity for concentrated amounts of interaction so that we can spend most of our time in between with our craft.

Last week, I had the joy of spending several days at Bouchercon—an annual convention where readers, creators and devotees of crime fiction unite. As usual, I experienced the slightest bit of guilt before leaving Los Angeles. I should be writing. Is it worth the time “off?” Perhaps I’m spending too much money. Seeing as it wasn’t my first conference, I already knew the answers to my concerns: You’ll probably write there. Your writing will improve as a result. This IS part of your work. DUH, of COURSE it’s worth it. And important. And a blast.

I connected with friends I met last year, made new ones and experienced more than a few epiphanies regarding my writing throughout. In a word, it was inspiring. One highlight involved meeting Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze—co-owners of the “Once Upon a Crime” bookstore in Minneapolis, near my former stomping ground and where I hope to have my first Midwestern book signing.

And now I’m back in my L.A. “office” (my bull dog-topped sofa), with heightened vigor for my writing routine. And see? I’m still finding time to pop in, post, Tweet, FB, etc.

If you’ve considered attending a writers conference and haven’t yet taken the leap, please do so. I can almost guarantee you’ll thank me. ;)

A few fabulous resources:

Southern California Writers Conference Open to all genres and levels; craft, business, fiction/nonfiction; tight-nit group with lots of support. A great place to start! For a fee, have some of your writing reviewed by an agent, editor or author.

Bouchercon 2012 Plenty of time to prepare/save up, etc. ;) For readers, writers, agents, publishers, book sellers and editors of crime fiction. Fantastic panels and speakers, fun fun fun!

Dallas Fort Worth Writers Conference Ample access to agents and others pros, terrific speakers, workshops, etc.

Writers Conferences and Centers Search for conferences by keyword.

Comment on your experiences or goals regarding writers conferences or similar interactions (clubs, critique groups, etc). One lucky winner will win a $15 Amazon.com gift card!

Writers’ Deadly Vices

Okay, so there are LOTS more than seven vices that can nuke a writing career. Fortunately, there are plentiful ways to prevent and stop them. Simply recognizing potential dangers can go a long way toward safeguarding us against them.

Take a peak at my list and feel free to add your own. I look forward to hearing your thoughts…

FYI, this list is in no way meant to promote, dissuade or inspire religious beliefs of any kind. You are, however, welcome to share your “confessions” with whoever you choose. ;)

  1. Lust
    When I asked a friend—we’ll call him Tommy—what inspires him to write, he said he wants his name to appear in the “New York Times” and on the stands at airport bookstores—an urge so powerful he dreams of it. “The women will go crazy for me,” he said. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the prospect of fame and adoration, successful writers bring much more to the page. People like Tommy love the idea of being a writer—not the actual writing. If you find yourself lusting over a writing career like a hormone-enraged teen with a movie star crush, it’s time to check your motivation.
  2. Greed
    “Buy my book! Follow my blog! Vote for my story—or else!”
    “Introduce me to your agent!”
    “Blurb me!” I haven’t read your book, but whatever.
    Desire is a good thing. And we’re all selfish to an extent. But begging your way to a fan-base, piggybacking on other writers‘ achievements and being flat-out annoying are likely career killers.
  3. Wrath
    “It makes me so angry that I don’t have time to write!” (Solution: So…make time.)
    “I hate my job! It keeps me from writing.” (Only we can keep ourselves from writing.)
    “I’d write more if I weren’t so distracted.” (Solution: It’s our responsibility to eliminate distractions—turn our phones off, find a quiet spot and WRITE.)
    “Why does she have an agent/publisher/book deal? I work harder. I’ve written longer. I deserve it (more)!”
    Every writer’s success story should bring us joy. People are buying books. Deals are being made. We could be next! And we want our friends to succeed, right? It’s natural to wish it was our chance NOW. But getting worked up and frustrated because a cohort got an agent or book deal before you did is counterproductive.  It also burns bridges; you can forget about those blurbs you greedily lust after…
  4. Envy
    “How can that lame book be a best-seller (when mine is so superior)?”
    I’ll use Twilightas an example. I personally didn’t dig it—no offense to Stephanie Meyer. But I consider the thousands of youth her series has drawn into reading and loving books and feel nothing but grateful.Some of us make the mistake of envying another’s success so much, we try to duplicate it. (Hmm…Why not throw a vampire and a magically-gifted child named Larry Plotter in my mystery?) Not a good move. Gaining inspiration from other’s work is positive. Attempting to clone it, however, is not.
  5. Gluttony
    “Pigging out” on writing conferences, books about writing, lectures about writing and conducting research for a book are not writing. Although they can undoubtedly benefit our writing and careers, spending all of our time not writing leads to one thing: nada to show for our energy, time and efforts.
  6. Pride
    “How dare my agent ask me to cut that scene/character/plot twist? It’s perfect the way it is.”
    Okay, so most of us aren’t that arrogant; if anything, we fall on the side of self-conciousness. But it can be difficult to swallow our pride and accept others’ feedback. We want our work to be the best it can be, right? Choose your critique-ers wisely, of course. I’d much prefer a Simon Cowel-like editor to an uber-polite relative who rarely reads thrillers.
    And your agent, if you’re working with one, maintains success by knowing what works and sells and what doesn’t. Getting angry and, worse, ignoring his or her criticism stirs up bad energy. It also makes that 15 percent they work for somewhat useless.
  7. Sloth
    Apathy toward our writing is perhaps the worst vice because if we don’t care, we won’t try. We’ll never share the stories our readers desire to hear or reap the fulfillment that comes from creating literary art. If we care, but not enough, we’re liable to self-publish a manuscript in dire need of revision, query agents before we’re ready and bypass necessary research for our second work. Patience, hard work and persistence are necessary parts of the game.
     What vice are you guilty of? Which have you overcome? Any to add??? Regardless… Happy writing!

Phobias: When Fear Overwhelms Us

“I’m terrified! No, petrified. No… There isn’t a word strong enough to describe it. It’s like I have flu, only with my heart pounding, and it HURTS! Nauseas, dizzy. I can’t stop shaking… Is this what a heart attack feels like? At least that would get me out of here, not that I want to be in the hospital. But maybe…ANYwhere but here. SOMEONE HELP!!!” – excerpt from my 8th grade journal

Any guess what I was referring to? I’ll give you a hint. It stinks, can turn blond hair greenish and sounds like “swish, swish”…or, when I’m around, “AGGGHHH!”

Yep—swimming class. I don’t know where my fear came from, but others in my family share it and trust me, it had nothing to do with the stench or hair tint. And although I made a huge personal step by dipping fully below the water and floating for the very first time about six years ago (I call this swimming), the mere thought of chlorinated swimming pools inspires nausea. *Pauses for a ginger-chew.*

Specific phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, involves “marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation,” including, but not limited to, the fear of heights, spiders and flying. Roughly 9 percent of the U.S. population experiences them, 21.9 percent of whom with severe symptoms.

To someone who’s never experienced such fear, they seem ludicrous. But when you have a phobia, it seems like the most logical thing in the world. When people tell me they don’t recall not knowing how to swim, that it’s as natural as breathing in and out, I’m as dumbfounded as they are when I share my need for floaties and, most preferably, dry land.

Some of the more common phobias, according to MayoClnic.com, include fear of: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), animals (zoophobia), flying, storms, dentists, injections, bridges, tunnels and my personal fave, water (hydrophobia).

Social phobia involves intense social shyness and self-conciousness. Agoraphobia, which affected Sigorney Weaver’s character in the film, “Copycat,” involves fear of open places with no simple means of escape.

Uncommon phobias, which are debilitating to a very few people, include:

  • Ambulophobia: the fear of walking
  • Anablephobia: the fear of looking up
  • Arachibutyrophobia: the fear of peanut butter sticking to your mouth
  • Barophobia: the fear of gravity
  • Cataptrophobia: the fear of mirrors
  • Chionophobia: the fear of snow
  • Chromatophobia: the fear of colors
  • Chronomentrophobia: the fear of time
  • Genuphobia: the fear of knees
  • Geumapobia: the fear of taste
  • Hypnophobia: the fear of sleep
  • Mnemophobia: the fear of memories
  • Peladophobia: the fear of bald people
  • Siderophobia: the fear of stars
  • PhobiaPhobia: the fear of fear itself (Okay, I made that one up. But it’s possible, no?)
I’m certainly no psychological or scientific expert, but I do know this: Facing your fears can have a profoundly empowering effect. Just ask the two-year-olds in my break-through swimming class! ;) What personal fears have you overcome? What did you learn? Or is yours still on your ‘someday’ list?

Secret Seduction

I saw a fabulous movie yesterday—”The Debt,” starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t yet seen it (I hope you do!) but I will tell you this: It got me thinking…about secrets.

What would I do, if presented with the same secret? How many of us have secrets? What are the advantages of keeping or revealing them? What are the deciding factors that lead us to the secret-keeping decision in the first place? And what are the risks?

These questions are some of the reasons secrets make for such fascinating tales—whether we’re aware of the hidden truth or not. They seduce us with questions that challenge our own beliefs and choices, the proverbial “What if…?”

In “The Debt” three former Mossad agents keep a secret for decades. As viewers, we absorb the secret’s weighty consequences long before we (or at least I) realize what it is.

One of my favorite books, “The Big Picture,” by Douglas Kennedy, centers on a wealthy lawyer with a seemingly perfect life. From the beginning, we know about the snap decision he makes to save his life and his future, only to end it all for someone else. Yet, we can’t stop flipping the pages.

Keeping an unwanted secret makes way for tumult.

“People will tend to misread the return of unwanted thoughts. We don’t realize that in keeping it secret we’ve created an obsession in a jar,” said Daniel Wegner, a Harvard psychologist who investigated the effects of secret-keeping among humans.

The longer we keep it, the more capacity it has to magnify and grow. Although this makes for awesome fiction, it can zap the pleasure from our lives.

Secrets can also draw people closer together. Two siblings who keep a secret, positive or negative, from their parents, for example, create a common bond. The same might happen for a couple, both of whom cheating on their spouses. They share much more than the same hotel room bed…

One of the worst kinds of secret, in my opinion, are ones we keep about our desires solely within, or even from, ourselves: An artist who never puts his paintbrush to the page…a writer too afraid of failure to write Chapter One… Another in a damaging relationship who never admits she’s unhappy, and thus never leaves.

In an interview with “USA Weekend,” Anita Vangelisti, a researcher and professor of communication studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said that most people say they will keep a secret, only to tell another: “I promised I wouldn’t say anything, but…” Only about 10 percent of people reportedly keep secrets “no matter what.”

So what’s your deepest, darkest secret? KIDDING! I won’t make that silly move, but I would love to hear your thoughts on secret-keeping. If it’s for a good cause, is it all good? What has life taught you about secret-keeping? And…because I love a good thriller—any secretive books or movies you’d recommend?

If you do wish to share your secrets, “there’s an app for that.” Check out Post Secret to share and absorb others’ secrets from around the world.

Facing the Enemy: Vital Steps Toward Success

“I could see him on the three-inch viewer, sitting on a ragged couth, feet on the edge of a wooden utility spool coffee table. He appeared to be alone, a beer in his right hand, his left hand in his lap and partially hidden from view. You hiding something under there, big guy? 

Hovering in the damp air around the front porch, just above the sweet, sick scent of trash and empty beer cans, was the aroma of something synthetic like superglue and Styrofoam. 

I triggered off the safety, then tapped on the front door. ” 

This excerpt from Amanda Kyle Williams’ novel, “The Stranger You Seek” (which I highly recommend) illustrates one of the reasons we love suspenseful tales. The protagonist, knowing the risky nature of her actions, takes them anyway. Why? Because her mission requires them. We cheer the heroine on, living vicariously through her trials and successes, hopefully gaining not only entertainment, but inspiration.

When I tell people I’m a writer, I’m often asked, “What do you do about writer’s block?” “I’m writing a book, too…but it’s so hard to sit down and write,” is also common. Rather than go into lengthy explanatory responses, I usually say something like, “I have my challenges…luckily those aren’t mine.” (I actually don’t even believe in writer’s block, but I’ll save that for another post…)

Regardless of what our goals our, reaching them requires maximizing on our strengths and facing our challenges/obstacles and weaknesses head on. How boring would a suspense novel be if the FBI agent, sensing danger, dashed home to distract herself via Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! News rather than pursue it?

I personally face a struggle almost every darn night. SLEEP.  It’s taken me years to come to terms with the fact that sufficient sleep is A, necessary and B, damaging to go without it. And if I don’t turn in early most evenings, I won’t have the early-morning gusto to bring to the page each day. Rather than whine about it (okay, I may whine a little…), I challenged myself to rest more often, read a great book by renowned sleep expert Dr. Matthew Edlund, REST: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough and began changing my sleeping habits—not because I thought it would be fun, but because my success as a writer and my overall wellbeing depend on it.

And simply by posting my sleep goals here, stating them “aloud” for others to see, I’m increasing my chance for success. A Yale study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews showed that people who share their goals and goal-reaching updates with friends are 33% more likely to accomplish them.

So…yep. You guessed it. I’d like you to share your goals here. You are the protagonist in your own life. What challenges stand between you and your goals? What are you willing to do to surpass them?

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